Gill Hurtig waited his entire baseball life for a walk-off hit. And the Evanston senior couldn’t have picked a better time for it.
Hurtig’s line drive RBI single to right center with one out in the 10th inning Wednesday climaxed an improbable — if not impossible — comeback, lifting the Wildkits to a 5-4 triumph over Fenwick in the semifinals of the Class 4A Niles West Sectional tournament.
After trailing 4-1 with only two outs remaining, coach Frank Consiglio’s team rallied to force a tie in the 9th inning and will take a 28-7-1 record into Saturday’s championship contest against either Oak Park-River Forest or Loyola Academy.
Hurtig, who only drove in 10 runs all season prior to Wednesday’s clutch blow, also played a role in the 9th inning rally with a single that knocked out Fenwick starter Kevin Forde (14 strikeouts in 8-plus innings).
In the 10th, Sam Evans reached on a one-out error, Mark Roth walked on five pitches, and pinch-runner Alex Galvin crossed with the winning run when Hurtig jumped on the first pitch from reliever Adam Williams.
“That’s the first walk-off hit of my life, at any level,” Hurtig pointed out. “I knew he had just walked Mark in front of me and he was just trying to get it over. It was a fastball, and he got it up just where I like it.
“At that point I just kept thinking if this is my last-ever at-bat, I want it to be something good. Thankfully, now I get to keep playing.”
So do his teammates, who as a group just refuse to lose.
“That was the best game I’ve ever been a part of,” said a jubilant Consiglio. “That last inning was absolutely phenomenal. In a moment like this, in playoff baseball, for them to do what they did today was absolutely unbelievable.
“They hang on, they never die and they find ways to win. These are guys without a ton of playoff experience — but they know how to win. Those were two career hits for Justin Farrow and Gill Hurtig, and by that I mean those are hits they’ll always remember.”
The Friars (26-8) broke through in the top of the 9th for three runs against ETHS starter James Allen and Zach Anderson and, with Forde apparently on cruise control on the mound and the bottom of the order coming up in Evanston’s half of the inning, the Kits appeared to be dead in the water.
That’s just when their character came through. Singles by Roth and Hurtig kept the season alive and knocked Forde out, and No. 9 hitter Ben Drake worked a 5-pitch walk to fill the bases for Evanston.
Fenwick failed to turn what could have been a game-ending double play on Ben Wilson’s ground ball, and that opening proved to be just enough for the No. 1 seeded Wildkits. Farrow followed with a two-run double into the left field corner to tie the game, but was himself stranded at second with what could have been the game-winning run when Allen fouled out to end the threat.
Anderson surrendered a pair of doubles in his relief stint, including a two-bagger by Casey O’Laughlin leading off the 10th for the Friars. But the ETHS right-hander redeemed himself and eventually got credit for the victory after striking out the next two hitters and getting Williams on a grounder to shortstop Charlie Maxwell to end the inning.
Allen drove in Evanston’s first run of the game with a third inning single, then spent the rest of the contest working out of jams in the fifth, sixth and eighth innings. He finally departed after yielding a double off the fence by Ryan Pierson and a single by Williams in the 9th.
“James Allen was just out there on pure guts today,” said Consiglio. “He talked me into leaving him in that last inning, and I’ll go down with him any day. To me, that (decision) was a no-brainer, even though it didn’t work out the way we wanted it to. We just picked each other up.”
Maxwell paced Evanston’s 10-hit attack with a 3-for-3 effort that included a double and two walks. His one-out double in the 8th couldn’t produce a run as the hard-throwing Forde reached back to fan both Allen and Tyler McHolland on a combined 10 pitches.
Source: ETHS Sports Information